Like a string of small pearls, the resurgent commercial development on the Carlisle Pike is of greater value than the worth of each new business because it heralds the re-emergence of Central Pennsylvania's economy, companies and local officials said.
From Camp Hill to Carlisle — where Route 11 takes on its third midstate name, the Harrisburg Pike — commercial development projects are returning to Cumberland County's central business corridor. The new projects along the pike could be a good indicator of a strengthening midstate economy, local officials said.
The latest pike development, The Shoppes at Keystone Arms, is relatively small at 27,665 square feet, but planning for the multi-tenant retail building at 1075 Harrisburg Pike goes back to 2004, said Mark Carpenter, the Middlesex Township zoning officer. The commercial portion was planned along with townhomes, which were developed first, and then the Great Recession stalled most activity.
Keystone Arm Associates, a company linked to Lancaster County-based Blackford Development and LMS Commercial Real Estate, started building again in September, Carpenter said. The main anchor tenant will be Dollar General, he said.
"By design it was going to be a long, slow-absorption development," said Blaze Cambruzzi, chief operating officer of Manheim Township-based LMS Commercial.
The retail was secondary to Keystone Arms' residential development, he said. As LMS Commercial sold more apartments and townhomes, it attracted attention from potential tenants, he said. Developing the other five commercial lots will become easier as the economy improves, he said.
"Demand on the Harrisburg Pike corridor is strong," Cambruzzi said.
Middlesex Township has several new buildings or redevelopment projects underway on the pike, Carpenter said. Blue Beacon, a Kansas-based truck-washing chain, redeveloped the former Gables site at 1240 Harrisburg Pike.
Next year, Lebanon County-based Rays Hospitality plans to build a Holiday Inn Courtyard Suites-branded hotel in the township at 1152 Harrisburg Pike, near the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Rays also is the owner of a Holiday Inn Express on Route 422 in the North Lebanon Township.
"I wouldn't call it an explosion, but we certainly have some more commercial development," Carpenter said about the general trend along the Carlisle Pike.
Some countywide statistics paint an upward trend for commercial development, said Kirk Stoner, director of the Cumberland County Planning Department.
"Looking at the number of proposed commercial lots in the county, 2011 did see an uptick with 54 proposed commercial lots as compared to 31 in 2010," Stoner said last week in an email.
That's a good indication of increased activity, but it's not a definitive guide to 2011 construction trends, he said. The county is compiling information for its annual planning and development analysis, which takes a look at the previous year in context of the last decade to get a better idea of what's being developed where. The analysis helps the county and local governments plan for commercial and residential development as well as farmland preservation and open space conservation.
The real indicator of increasing development will be the building permits issued this year because those are projects under way or completed, not just proposed, Stoner said.
Farther up the pike, Hoffer Properties is readying to develop commercial lots on the southeast corner with Route 114 in Silver Spring Township. Hoffer plans to construct two office buildings soon, yet the project doesn't have a definitive start date. The project could include banks, restaurants and possibly a CarMax Inc. used car dealership at Sterling Place, the old Phico property's new name. Sterling Place includes an existing 230,000-square-foot office building that's fully leased.
Although such large developments bring new business and expand local economies, some business owners have concerns about congestion on area roads.
New Jersey-based Toys R Us Inc. is building a combined Toys R Us/Babies R Us store with extra retail shops at 6391 Carlisle Pike in Hampden Township. The location had been the site of a car dealership that was razed for the retail outfit that will open in early 2012.
Hampden Township officials are seeing similar trends along the Carlisle Pike with companies talking about redevelopment, but fewer plans have been submitted, manager Keith B. Metts said.
"We are very hopeful that redevelopment will occur throughout the township, to include the areas defined in the proposed special development district," he said in an email, referencing the township's plans to remake the pike with a town center appearance.
Commercial real estate firms said development along the pike is returning with the economy, but redeveloping suburban corridors also is about a larger cycle in the region.
"We've had a nice run of normal to above normal activity for the last six months," said Thomas Posavec, vice president of East Pennsboro Township-based Landmark Commercial Realty Inc./Oncor International, the leasing agent for Sterling Place.
That activity could continue through 2012 as real estate re-enters a long-term growth trend, he said.
"I think there's pent-up demand that's rearing its head after years of people being on the sideline," Posavec said.
LMS Commercial's Cambruzzi said he sees similar trends and expects more redevelopment of suburban corridors such as the Carlisle Pike. Before the recession, commercial development focused on greenfields near exits that would attract big-box retailers, he said. However, that also required heavy investment in new roads and utilities, he said.
"One of the draws of the Carlisle Pike is the existing infrastructure," Cambruzzi said. "And now, you don't really have those other projects pulling investment away."